Slots strategy 101: Understanding online slot variance

Want to know whether your favourite online slots are ready to pay out the big prizes? We explore the notion of variance in casino slot games.

With so many thousands of online slots available, it can be tricky knowing which ones to pick.

Many players choose a slot based on theme or bonus features, but picking a slot based on variance can have a real impact on your long-term fortunes.

Even if you’re a recreational slots player, understanding volatility and variance is essential. Let’s take a closer look at how slot mechanics vary from game to game. 

What is slots variance?

You will hear two terms in online slot design: variance and volatility.

Essentially, they are the same thing. The variance of a slot is the way in which a game pays the player.

A high-variance or high-volatility slot will pay irregular large prizes. A low-variance slot will generally pay lots of small prizes over a shorter space of time.

If an online slot has a huge progressive jackpot or an enormous bonus feature paying millions of coins, it’s likely to be high-volatility.

If the game has a low top jackpot and no bonus features, it’s more likely to be low-volatility.

So, how can you work out if a game has low or high variance? You might not get a good feel for a game unless you play thousands of spins.

Playing over a long term is the best way to work out the variance.

Working out online slot variance

If you don’t have the bankroll or stamina for a long session, there are other ways to find out if your favourite slots are volatile or not.

Many players look to the RTP percentage first. All online slots feature an RTP, or Return to Player, percentage. This is the expected long-term payouts made to players.

You will usually find the RTP in the slot’s paytable. The higher the RTP%, the more money is paid back to the player over the long term.

A low RTP percentage doesn’t necessarily equate to low or high volatility. You might have a game with a low maximum jackpot that pays out regularly but still has a low overall RTP percentage. Similarly, you may find a volatile slot with a big maximum jackpot that pays out a 98 per cent RTP.

A good way to work out variance is to look at the paytable payouts. Have a quick look at the difference between the top payout for five of a kind and the lowest payout for five of a kind. If the spread is quite big, it probably means the game is volatile.

Let’s say a slot has a jackpot symbol that pays 5,000 coins for five of a kind. The lowest-paying symbol in the game pays 25 coins for five of a kind.

The difference between the two is 200x. That’s a massive gap between the top and bottom payouts and probably means the slot only very rarely pays the big jackpots.

You can also look at the difference in payouts between a three of a kind, four of a kind, and five of a kind on a single symbol.

If the five of a kind payout is 10-15x the size of the four of a kind jackpot, this again can mean high volatility.

Watching out for bonus features

Other factors come into play when working out a slot’s volatility. If a game has a lot of bonus games like free spins, stacked wilds, or even a progressive jackpot, the variance of the slot may be high.

The game will only trigger these special features so often. That can mean lots of losing spins before you hit a free spins bonus or wild symbol.

Even the layout of symbols on the reels can determine variance. If the high-paying symbols are concentrated on the final three reels, for example, and paylines run left to right, it will be harder for the player to hit a winning combination.

Discover the best slots online at Betway Casino

The best way to find the slots you want is to test them out for free. At Betway Casino, there are hundreds of games you can try for play money. Practice with play credits and see if you hit winning or losing streaks. Study the paytables and try to work out on which reels most of the bonus and jackpot symbols are. 

Choosing high and low-volatility slots is a matter of personal choice, and there is fun to be had in both styles of game. Try a selection out today and see which you prefer.

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